Cleaning Out The Ole’ Muck Pit: How Is It Possible?

(Catholic Boy winning the G1 Travers Stakes on Saturday / Photo Courtesy of NYRA)

Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”

It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge. After all, someone has to do it, right?

And, it didn’t take long for us to find a few pounds of, well, manure.

Here is a look at our Eleventh Edition, with a little game of “How Is It Possible?” Most of these are rhetorical, but if you want to engage and give us a plausible answer, please feel free:

First…

“How Is It Possible” that we tout the grand Catholic Boy ever since we first laid eyes on this magnificent being at the Breeders’ Cup last November at ole’ Del Mar; we pick him as our #1 choice for this year’s Kentucky Derby all the way through the early part of the Triple Crown preps; and we voted for him in the HorseRacingNation weekly poll faithfully, religiously, continuously until it was obvious that he would not make the Derby (just ask my good friend Jonathan Lintner), and then not bet him straight in the Travers Stakes?

Oh, I had him in my exotics, mind you.

But they didn’t pay off.

And, I touted him on our weekly podcast with the great broadcaster Dave Baker.

But that didn’t return any change for the old pocketbook.

But…

Well, there’s always a but, right?

I do like Catholic Boy.

Second…

“How Is It Possible” that we can stand some — if not most — of the world’s greatest stallions right here in Kentucky, and they can father some of the greatest racehorses of all time; from generation to generation; from yesteryear to this year; from the great Secretariat and Seattle Slew to the likes of American Pharoah and Justify, yet we cannot seem to be able to breed, keep, and race just one of the best grass horses in the world these days?

Not even one?

Oh, we have been able to scratch up an exception every now and again. But for every Lure, or John Henry, or even Wise Dan, we regularly get our butts kicked by the Europeans. Like in regularly. Like in always (or so it seems).

Like by the likes of 7-year-old Glorious Empire in the G1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga.

On Saturday, the 7-year-old Irish-bred gelding whipped the best this continent had to offer in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga.

Oh, I understand that he has run predominantly in this country ever since he got here in 2016 from Newmarket. And, I know that he is now become Americanized about as much as most of our homebreds. But in 14 races since making the trip across the pond, he has managed only 4 wins. And, one of them was in a claiming race, for goodness sakes.

Yet, there he was on Saturday, running away from some of America’s best like he was the great Frankel versus a group of Maiden Claimers.

What’s up with that?

If you had to rank the best turf runners in the United States right now, who would be included on that list? Robert Bruce? Despite the fact that he has run his last three times in this country, he is a Chilean-bred and won his first six races in that country. Is it Sistercharlie? The filly is 3-for-4 this year, and she did win the G1 Beverly D at Arlington Park. But the best grass runner in America this year is a filly? Is it Hi Happy, who lost in the Sword Dancer? And, he is an Argentina-bred, who started his racing career in South America. Who is it?

It may be Catholic Boy. In fact, I would argue that it is Catholic Boy. But don’t you figure that he will run next in the Breeders’ Cup Classic? On the dirt.

So our best grass runner to face-off with the best that Europe may send to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup is a dirt horse?

We really should do better. We really should.

Third…

“How Is It Possible” that the affable and talented Bob Baffert can win nearly every race he enters when he ships a horse from his home base in California across the Mississippi to any racing racing venue in the Midwest or East?

On Saturday, Baffert entered two horses in two races at Saratoga on Travers’ Day. Although he had won the last two Travers Stakes with the likes of Arrogate and West Coast, he didn’t have a horse he felt merited a trip to The Spa for that event this year. Not with the injury, defection and retirement of the great, Triple Crown winner Justify. But he did have a horse for the G1 Personal Ensign, and another for the G1 Ballerina Stakes.

As fate would have it, Baffert and his horses won them both. Abel Tasman, winner of the 2017 Kentucky Oaks, captured the Personal Ensign, and Marley’s Freedom ran away with the Ballerina.

Now, Baffert — a man known for his golden touch with the colts — is starting to dominate the country’s best filly races?

Well, so it seems.

All I can say, or write, is that the man gets really good horses to train. And, the man knows what to do with them once he gets them.

He is the best.

As in?

Ever.

Fourth…

“How Is It Possible” that a Hall of Fame trainer, such as Bill Mott, goes to whining and crying — like a baby filly on the first night she’s been weaned from mom — when he doesn’t get his way in a decision from the racing stewards?

My gosh man, give it a break. You and your fine filly, Elate, got beat by Abel Tasman in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga on Saturday. In a great race, no doubt. But you got beat.

The fact is Bill, if you try to watch the replay with an unbiased eye, the two great and grand fillies came together — converged towards each other — like great racehorses normally do. They both moved toward each other to engage the fight. Elate, your horse, moved towards the inside. Abel Tasman, the winner, moved towards the outside. And, they came side by side. In one of the best, most challenging, most fun races since the great Beholder nipped the fantastic Songbird in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in 2016.

It was magical. It was aggressive. It was race-riding. And, it was racing.

Did they exchange a bump? Maybe. Kind of looked like they may have.

Did it cost one horse the race over another? Didn’t look like it. Neither broke stride, stumbled, faltered or waned.

That race should not have been settled by the stewards. It should have been settled by the horses.

And, it was.

Abel Tasman won. Again. And, it was a race for the memories.

A Hall of Fame trainer should understand that, and appreciate being part of it. A Hall of Fame trainer should look forward to having another chance to turn the tables. A Hall of Fame trainer should not be crying.

So quit.

Fifth…

“How Is It Possible” that anyone who watched the Travers Stakes on Saturday thought that Mendelssohn ran a great race, and should be considered a serious threat for the Breeders’ Cup Classic?

Really? Seriously?

Let’s be honest, guys. OK? Up for that?

Mendelssohn — who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last November at Del Mar — set sail for the lead of the 11/4-mile Travers Stakes right at the hatch of the gate. And, on a track that was aiding and abetting speed types all day long, and in a field of horses that was devoid of any true speed types, Mendelssohn took advantage. Full advantage.

He plodded along on the front end through pedestrian-like fractions. The first quarter was nearly :24. The first half was nearly :48. The three-quarters time was 1:11.97. Those are the kind of fractions that you would normally see set by allowance horses. Maybe even some claiming horses.

Still, Mendelssohn — trained by Aidan O’Brien — could not hold onto the lead. Not even close.

When the running got serious, Catholic Boy zoomed past Mendelssohn as easy as a Porsche boxcar goes past a moped. Catholic Boy rolled to an easy 4-length victory, and it could have been by more. Bravazo and King Zachary nearly did what was impossible on Saturday’s racetrack — close. Bravazo came within a length of catching Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn may be able to beat any of our best on the grass — again. (See the “How Is Possible” above.) But all he showed me on Saturday is that he is a nice grass horse who becomes rather ordinary on the dirt.

And, no matter what his connections may try next, he won’t warm up our best in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Not even close.

Sixth…

“How Is It Possible” that Ricardo Santana, Jr. is not considered one of the top riders in the world?

There is a reason why the man rides first chair for Steve Asmussen.

He can ride.

There is a reason why the man got Whitmore up to win the Forego Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday. While all the main contenders were wheeling wide into the turn, Santana and his steed steered to the rail. And, when the hole opened, they were strategically and ideally placed to take full advantage.

There is a reason why the man was so excited when he and horse strode across the finish line first. He was happy. On the world’s largest stage, he and horse stole the show.

It is time the game started to give the man his due.

He’s earned it.

And, drum roll please, we have our seventh & last:

“How Is It Possible” that the great John McCain, a war hero with a grand sense of purpose and fairness, cannot be President of these United States of America (thanks Sarah Pallin; even he couldn’t overcome you), but the pathetic J. Donald Trump, a dumbass of the highest caliber, can be?

Go rest high on that mountain, Sen. McCain. You are in a much better place. We will miss you. We will miss your character. We will miss your courage. We will miss your leadership. We will miss your grace, style, and diplomacy. We will miss your dedication and professionalism. We will miss your independence and your ability to stand up tall and strong for what is right.

As for Trump?

Why don’t you go somewhere else. Anywhere else. As in any damn where.

And, we all would be in a much better place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s amazing,” said Baffert, who had Triple Crown near-misses with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002). “It never gets old. American Pharoah, he’ll always be my first love.

“[This horse] was showing me the same signs [as American Pharoah], he showed me that same brilliance. Superior horse. I mean, he could have won every race on the undercard today. He’s just that kind of horse.”

Bob Baffert, Trainer of Justify
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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